January 17, 2022
Why flexible plastic packaging is tough to mechanically recycle
And why Greenback has the answer!
Plastic flexible packaging has been a format of choice for the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry for several decades, offering many benefits to brands and their supply chains. From flow wraps and gusseted bags, to lidding films and pouches, flexible packaging is a light weight, versatile format that provides superior product protection and preservation, as well as stand out presentation of products to drive sales.
As flexible packaging has developed in sophistication over the years, the diversity of materials in packaging design has also increased. For example, a brand seeking extended shelf life through retorting (or sterilisation of a product in the pack), puncture resistance, and perhaps a pouch design for on-the go consumption, can end up with an extruded or laminated film structure with up to 10 or 12 individual materials being bonded together. Each layer of the resulting substrate offers unique functionality to the overall pack structure. Whether moisture or gas barrier, a sealing layer, or adding durability to the film laminate, the substrate remains lightweight and highly efficient from a supply chain perspective. However, this complexity of design has its drawbacks when it comes to post consumer disposal.
Today’s mechanical recycling infrastructure around the world relies on sortation of materials into single streams of polymer or fibre. Any recycling system must create recyclate with commercial value i.e., have a market application for it to be sold to with a commercial value and be of appropriate purity to be reused. Single polymer milk bottles manufactured from Polyethylene (PE) or drinks bottles made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) are great examples of this process in action, recycling many times through a closed loop infrastructure bottle to bottle.
For flexible packaging containing multiple polymers, this route of disposal is simply not accessible today. Once co-extruded or laminated, the multiple polymers present in typical flexible packaging cannot be separated efficiently to support single stream recycling. Brands therefore have several options to consider.
First, is to move to single polymer structures through investment in research and development. For simpler pack designs, for example lidding films for protein packs or confectionary wrappers, then moving to PE, PP or PET films utilising different grades of a single polymer to achieve pack performance, is one option – but has its limitations when multiple functionalities like retorting or high barrier performance are required.
Brands can also shift to home and industrial compostable materials made from renewable polymers. Again, some compromises are likely to be made on pack performance, but the main challenge remains in cost. Compostable materials today do not have the economies of scale of fossil fuel-based plastics and are often priced 8-10 times the cost of incumbent plastics. Of course, then there is the issue of consumers understanding how to compost their waste or the availability of industrial composting facilities.
Greenback was established to deal with the reality of the waste streams we see today. Even if manufacturers shift some of their packaging to single polymer structures, multi-layer materials will continue to exist for many years – especially in middle-income countries where the plastic waste problem is most acute.
Greenback is building a decentralised network of advanced recycling plants near to the sources of plastic waste i.e., landfill sites, where non-recyclable plastic waste such as flexible packaging, can be collected. Utilising Enval technology – a unique microwave-induced pyrolysis solution for low density packaging waste – Greenback can recycle previously unrecyclable plastic to produce a feedstock (pyrolysis oil) for the production of food-grade plastic packaging at scale. Not only this, but the source of the material is authenticated using the Greenback eco2Veritas Circularity Platform, using blockchain and AI technologies, to provide brand owners with confidence in material provenance.
With advanced recycling from Greenback growing around the world, the benefits of flexible packaging for the CPG industry can be maintained and consumers can be confident they are still doing the right thing for the environment when buying their goods.
To find out more about Greenback’s solutions for flexible packaging recycling, please contact us.
January 6, 2022
Digitalising the post-consumer plastic waste stream for enhanced recyclate provenance
Boosting brand sustainability credentials with a verified plastic waste process
As Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) becomes increasingly relevant and enforceable around the world, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPGs) companies have to demonstrate compliance and greater supply chain transparency in relation to plastics use.
Driven by targets set voluntarily or by governments, businesses today are focused on reducing the amount of virgin plastic and increasing recycled content within their packaging. However, this presents a number of challenges to the companies themselves and the wider packaging and recycling industries.
What makes post-consumer plastic waste so complex to process?
This is largely due to the wide variety of polymers and materials in the mix, and the fact that there is no uniform collection system in place.
While mechanical recycling – the most common recycling process for post-consumer waste plastic – is ideal for recovering rigid plastics such as polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), it can only be utilised once materials have been sorted into single waste streams. Additionally, it is not suitable for the processing of flexible packaging, which often comprises multiple laminates that are difficult to separate post-use.
Such complexities have played a part in the plastic waste crisis that has enveloped countries around the world. As CPGs now look to change their approach to the use of plastics, the challenges presented by post-consumer plastic waste make it difficult for them to provide data to demonstrate sustainability, transparency and traceability when it comes to recycled content.
Why is transparency important?
It’s becoming ever more important for companies to know the source of the recyclate they use. Increasingly, consumers want to know as much about the packaging as the product contained within. As they seek out brands which are sustainable and eco-friendly, environmental responsibility extends beyond how a product is made and now encompasses the brand’s values and entire supply chain.
Today, for CPGs to be able to demonstrate sustainability to consumers and address the issue of plastic waste effectively, there is a critical challenge in securing legitimate sources of clean, recycled plastics. Without a certified recycling process, there is scope for some to attempt to cheat the system providing plastics derived from fossil sources (virgin materials) at recyclate prices.
‘Greenwashing’, where companies make unsubstantiated claims to deceive consumers into believing a company’s products are environmentally friendly, is also an ongoing problem. In relation to plastic packaging, such claims can include stating that it contains a certain amount of recycled content when in fact it contains none and is manufactured entirely from virgin material.
For these reasons, having a transparent and fully traceable recycling infrastructure, is paramount. It can ensure a level playing field for companies striving to comply with regulations, while providing clear and accurate information to consumers and guarantee product safety along the supply chain.
A verified recycling process
Greenback Recycling Technologies has developed the eco2Veritas Circularity Platform, a novel tool designed to track plastic waste at every stage of the recycling supply chain, from beginning to end.
The Circularity Platform digitally connects technologies within the recycling process to provide enhanced auditing methods. It uses a combination of artificial intelligence and IoT gathered evidence, including camera images, weigh scale data and smart analysis to enable companies to see when and how plastic waste was collected, along with the type and quality of material being processed. With such data, material provenance, composition and value can be authenticated and certified, and CPGs have access to the transparency and evidence of material processing that they need.
All data captured at each step of the process is stored securely on a private blockchain and then verified through the Circularity Platform, providing added peace of mind for companies.
The digital element of the platform complements the physical collection and flow of materials through the recycling supply chain. While the platform can work with any type of recycling technology, for Greenback it is invaluable as it certifies and substantiates the provenance of its pyrolysis oil, produced through its advanced recycling technology.
Why does Greenback’s digitalised approach to packaging recycling matter?
By taking this approach, Greenback is translating physical plastic packaging waste into a more valuable digital format that can be easily controlled, measured and verified. When it can be viewed in this way, it is easier to provide provenance and authenticity at a time when this is critically important for brands and their consumers.
It’s clear that plastic waste has become a sticking point for CPGs; the novel eco2Veritas Circularity Platform developed by Greenback, arms brands with a fresh and future-ready process to address the challenges of plastics recycling.
November 24, 2021
Solving Recycled Plastic Demand Challenges with Greenback
Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, 12% has been incinerated, and the rest - 79% - has accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. And, when you consider that over 90% of plastic packaging is made from fossil fuel, the associated waste is increasing greenhouse gases in the environment and impacting climate change.
Image source: UNEP
After years of becoming accustomed to the convenience of single use plastics, consumers have woken up to the effect that plastic pollution is having on the environment. Similarly, so have leading brands and retailers as a result of the changing consumer agenda. Being able to demonstrate sustainable values and, importantly, practices, are now seen as key influences in purchasing behaviour.
At the same time, major shifts in legislative and regulatory compliance around the world are effectively forcing Consumer Packaged Goods companies (CPGs) to take responsibility for the plastic they produce or face being penalised through taxation.
Globally, governments are increasingly implementing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations to encourage companies to design out problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging and innovate, in order that any plastic utilised is recyclable, reusable or compostable, ultimately creating a circular economy that benefits supply chains from beginning to end.
In the UK for example, the Plastic Packaging Tax is set to be implemented in April 2022. It aims to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and cut manufacturers’ reliance on virgin plastic. It will apply to all plastic packaging, either manufactured or imported to the UK, and stipulates that all packaging must contain at least 30% recycled material, otherwise a tax of £200 per tonne will be charged.
At a time when global economies are proving unpredictable, extra costs such as these are the last thing businesses want to see impacting the bottom line.
In addition, as the demand for recycled material grows – driven by consumers and compliance requirements - there is a question as to whether the recycling industry will be able to deliver the quantities required to meet the new market needs.
Mechanical recycling is currently the dominant recycling technique for post-consumer plastic packaging waste, producing recyclate via grinding, washing, separating, drying, re-granulating and compounding. This well-established technology works well for recovering plastic materials such as polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) where streams of a single waste material can be developed through sortation.
The difficulty arises when endeavouring to recycle mixed plastic waste. One option is to consider chemical recycling but it is not as readily available as mechanical recycling today.
Chemical recycling involves the use of pyrolysis – thermal degradation of plastic waste at different temperatures, in the absence of oxygen, to produce liquid oil that can then be used as a feedstock for the petrochemical industry to produce new plastic polymer. This polymer can then be used to produce new food-grade plastic packaging.
One company able to implement this process is Greenback Recycling Technologies (‘Greenback’). The recycling technology adopted by the company is microwave-induced pyrolysis, developed via Enval's proprietary pyrolysis solution for low-density packaging waste.
With a distributed network of advanced recycling centres located close to the sources of waste i.e. landfill sites, Greenback, through its eco2Veritas Circularity Platform™, certifies proof of material provenance and value, in terms of the material claims made, to provide users of resulting material confidence in their material supply.
Using a combination of artificial intelligence and IoT gathered evidence, all backed up on Blockchain to provide additional security, Greenback can track and trace its recycling production, responding to the need for consumers and businesses to have full visibility of the recycled plastic supply chain avoiding fraud.
Then, as part of its complete recycling solution, Greenback is also working in conjunction with local waste handlers at landfill sites as one way of ensuring feedstock supply. By gathering waste from public spaces and landfills, waste pickers divert a significant quantity of materials from the waste stream. If the recycling industry is to innovate and move forward in solving the plastics waste challenge, realising the critical role these people play in the collection through fair pay and conditions has to be recognised.
The demand for recycled content is increasing and it is clear that there are significant challenges for the industry to overcome in meeting demand. Greenback is committed to creating solutions in partnership with leading brands and multinationals to meet these needs head on, providing a new and innovative way of creating clean, food-grade recycled plastic.
November 4, 2021
Not Just Plastic Waste – How Does Recycling Address the Threat of Climate Change?
In light of the COP26 summit that is currently taking place in Glasgow, discussions around climate change have been dominating the public sphere. CO2 emissions represent one of the biggest global threats that we are facing today and reducing them by switching to clean energy sources has become a priority on the agenda. Plastics also represent a major environmental challenge: not only do they generate waste and pollution, but there is currently no effective way of disposing of them without emitting large volumes of CO2. Therefore, implementing cleaner methods to recycle plastic should be a major priority in the fight against climate change.
Today, plastic mainly gets recycled through mechanical recycling, in which it is mechanically transformed without altering its chemical structure and remoulded so that it can be reused. However, this process degrades the quality of the plastic over time and so it can only be recycled a limited number of times. Furthermore, it is only able to recycle certain types of plastic, mostly PET and HDPE, and many items are made up of different types of plastic that are hard to separate which complicates the recycling process. As a result, only a small percentage of plastic ends up getting recycled: according to a McKinsey report, only 12% of the 260 million tonnes of global plastic waste was recycled in 2016, with 25% being incinerated, generating CO2, and another 40% being thrown into landfills. While some have argued for a zero-plastic approach, it is an unrealistic goal to achieve in the short term given the many uses of plastic. For this reason, there is a clear need to invest into advanced recycling technologies that allow us to more effectively recycle all kinds of plastics. Chemical recycling is one of these potential solutions, and it would allow us to significantly improve recycling rates.
Chemical recycling is a more complex process than its mechanical counterpart. It involves modifying the chemical structure of the plastics and transforming them into other high-value chemicals that can be used as raw materials. Most importantly, it can be used to deal with hard-to-recycle plastics and makes possible the creation of an infinite recycling loop, contributing to the circular economy. While it is hard to measure the exact environmental impact of chemical recycling due to the technology still being in its early stages of development, a report by Material Economics found that it can achieve around 0.2 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of plastics produced, compared to 2.3 tonnes of CO2 generated from conventional production from fossil sources. Moreover, the same report calculated that chemical recycling combined with mechanical recycling could allow for the recirculation of as much as 62% of total plastics produced by 2050.
It is clear that chemical recycling has the potential to make a significant difference in the environmental impact of plastics, and could contribute to the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, making this a reality will require investment in infrastructure and a commitment from companies to directly face the plastic waste crisis by adopting more sustainable practices. Although the technologies are still in their infancy, chemical recycling offers exciting prospects for the future of plastics and it is bound to play an increasingly important role.